As a teenager, Salima Tete would often accompany her father Sulakshan to play in local hockey matches at nearby villages in Jharkhand’s Simdega district. The father would ferry Salima and one of her friends on a bicycle for more than 20 Kms and would help their respective teams win the tournaments, returning with the prizes – chicken and goats. On Friday, 20-year-old Salima impressed all with her swiftness in midfield as her brilliant runs helped India secure penalty corners in India’s 3-4 loss against Great Britain in the bronze medal match of the Tokyo Olympics. As they watched the game, Sulakshan and his wife Subhani recalled the days when their daughter used to star in village tournaments. “Playing hockey has been our favourite activity in Jharkhand and Salima would often accompany me to nearby villages for hockey tournaments. Sometimes, we would play more than 10 tournaments in a month. To see my daughter competing in the Olympics and be among the four best teams brings back all those memories. Medal or not, the girls gave their best and that’s what matters for us,” says Sulakshan.
The second-youngest among six siblings, Salima would be initiated into the game when her father included her name in the village team for a tournament in 2010. With some 40-odd villagers forming more than three teams, a young Salima would play as a defender. It was during one such tournament at Latthakhamhan village that the youngster’s defensive skills impressed Manoj Kondegi, president of the Simdega Hockey Association. With more than 500 players competing in the tournament played on grass, Kondegi remembers observing Salima’s game and urging her father to send her to the Jharkhand Government’s Girls’ residential academy at Simdega. “She would defend against much older opponents and sprint with ease. I told her father to send her for the trials but he did not agree as he wanted her to study for two more years. It was only in 2013 that Salima was selected in the trials,” remembers Kondegi.
With Salima’s father owning just seven acres of land and only one seasonal crop growing on the rocky land, the family annual income was in the range of Rs 90,000 to 1,20,000. With money needed for five other children too, Sulakshan remembers facing a tough choice during those times. “We owned seven acres at that time and as we only grew one seasonal crop, the income was not enough. We did not play hockey for money but would always reserve the family’s share of chicken and goats, which the village teams won, for Salima,” he recalls. When the youngster joined the residential academy at SS Girls Senior Secondary School at Simdega in 2013, she was one of 25 trainees under coach Pratima Barwa. Her natural talent caught the eye immediately. “When she first came to the academy, I was impressed by her speed. Even though she would move the hockey stick clockwise, she displayed good power. Due to competing in tribal tournaments, she never feared tackles. So we made her start as a defender but would also play her as right-half or left-half because of her speed. She would run from the centre line to the 23m line more than 100 times in a session,” says Barwa.